If, Yes and Perhaps - Four Possibilities and Six Exaggerations with Some Bits of Fact

If, Yes and Perhaps - Four Possibilities and Six Exaggerations with Some Bits of Fact


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The Project Gutenberg eBook of If, Yes and Perhaps, by Edward Everett Hale
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Title: If, Yes and Perhaps
Four Possibilities and Six Exaggerations with Some Bits of Fact
Author: Edward Everett Hale
Release Date: March 21, 2009 [eBook #28379]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1
E-text prepared by David Clarke, Martin Pettit, and the Project Gutenberg Online Distributed Proofreading Team (http://www.pgdp.net) from digital material generously made available by Internet Archive/American Libraries (http://www.archive.org/details/americana)
Images of the original pages are available through Internet Archive/American Libraries. See http://www.archive.org/details/ifyesperhaps00halerich
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Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1868, by TICKNOR AND FIELDS, in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.
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I dedicate this book to the youngest of my friends, now two hours old. Fun, fact, and fancy,—may his fresh life mix the three in their just proportions.
MILTO N, June 6, 1868.
The title to this book has met with general opprobrium, except in a few quarters, where it was fortunately regarded as beneath contempt. Colonel Ingham even exacted an explanation by telegraph from the Editor, when he learned from the Governor-General of Northern Siberia what the title was. This explanation the Editor gave in the following note. It is, however, impossible to change the title, as he proposes. For reasons known to all statesmen, it is out of the question to swap horses in crossing a river; and all publishers know that it is equally impossible to change titles under those circumstances.
BO STO N, October 17, 1868.
I have your note complaining of the sensational title, "somewhat affected," as you think, which I gave to our little story-book. Of course I am sorry you do not like the name; but, while you strike, I beg you to hear.
I readily acceded to your original title, and calle d the book in manuscript as you bade me,—
"A Few Short Sketches taken from Ancient History, Modern Travel, and the Realm of Imagination, Illustrative of the Poetry of the Bible, the History of Christianity, the Manners of the Tim es, and the Politics of the Present and Past Generations."
This title would, I admit, meet the views of most o f our present critics. But I abandoned it on my own responsibility,—you being then beyond the telegraph, at the mouth of the Oby River,—because it occurred to me, that, under the catalogue rules of Panizzi and the lamented Jewett, we should be indexed and catalogued at "Few." I did not think that a good omen.
Relinquishing, therefore, the effort at description of subject, I tried description of object, and determined on this:—
"Moral Sketches of Human Society, in the Past, the Present, and Imagined Worlds." By F. I., &c., &c., &c.
But, as I slept and waked on this, I said, "Who knows that these are moralsketches?" We wished them to be moral, but Ingham's have
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moralsketches?"Wewishedthemtobemoral,butIngham'shave been attacked by such patient critics as read them as being immoral, while many of the sketches seem to have no moral at all. Who are we, to claim that we have attained a moral standard?
Waking and sleeping once more, I asked myself, "Wha t are the things,—poor, nameless heathen children, that can get no sponsor and no Christian baptism?"
I said, in reply, that at least one of them was the living truth, so far as it could be squeezed out of blue books and the most proper of documents. Others might have been true, if the destinies had so willed. Others would have been true, had they not b een untrue. Others should have been true, had poetical justice been the working rule of a vulgar world.
"Might, Could, Would, or Should," then, would have been an available name for most of them,—unless one took from the older grammars the title of "The Potential Mood."
But, you observe, my dear Ingham, that our little s tory-book is destined mostly for young readers, who know no more of "The Potential Mood" than they know of the surrender of Cornwallis (this day celebrated). And, besides, we have some facts i n the treatise which are not hypothetical. Why ignore them? Do you not see that your miserable suggestion of "The Potential Mood" is as worthless as it is sensational and fails as not comprehensive , inadequate, unintelligible, and not true?
For these reasons I settled on the plain, straightforward title of unadorned truth, viz. "Four Possibilities, Six Exag gerations, and some Bits of Fact"; and with this we went to the publisher. But, as I entered his shop, a boy from Dutton's rushed in with his order-book, and cried:—
"I want seventyChimesand ninetyIvanhoe."
"What," said I, "if, by any good fortune, it had been our story-book that was wanted, this boy would then have called for
"'Seventy Four Possibilities.' Can there be so many in a world which runs in grooves? Will he even get the number that he needs of our treatises? Alexander a robber! Let me reflect."
Reflecting thus, I determined that the title of a book must be,—
1. Brief. 2. Intelligible. 3. Suggestive. 4. It must not begin with a numeral.
I took a Tremont Street car and returned home.
"What," I said in the night-watches, "is the brief expression of a possibility? Surely it is in the word PERHAPS.
"What of a fact?
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"Surely it is YES.
"What of an exaggeration? Why, it is that which would be true If it had not been overstated. Our title then, clearly, is
I see that the critics would have been better satisfied with this. But, on the principle of the little elephants sacrificing themselves in the passage of a river, Mr. Fields and I determined to start the smallest word first, and thus to drive a gentle wedge into the close chasm of the public favor. Sensitive, however, as I am, dear Ingham, to your criticism, I will at the earliest opportunity consult with him as to a return to the original title:—
"A Few Sketches * * * Illustrative," &c., &c., &c.
Or might we not let the one word "Etcetera" stand alone? Or thus, with the stars, "* * * &c., &c., &c."?
Truly yours,
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[This story originated in the advertisement of the humbug which it describes. Some fifteen or twenty years since, when gift enterprises rose to one of their climaxes, a gift of a large sum of money, I think $10,000, was offered in New York to the most successful ticket-holder in some scheme, and one of $5,000 to the second. It was arranged that one of these parties should be a man and the other a woman; and the amiable suggestion was added, on the part of the undertaker of the enterprise, that if the gentleman and lady who drew these prizes liked each other sufficiently wel l when the distribution was made, they might regard the decisi on as a match made for them in Heaven, and take the money as the dowry of the bride. This thoroughly practical, and, at the same time, thoroughly absurd suggestion, arrested the attention of a distinguished story-teller, a dear friend of mine, who proposed to me that we should each of us write the history of one of the two successful parties, to be woven together by their union at the end. The plan, however, lay latent for years,—the gift enterprise of course blew up,—and it was not until the summer of 1862 that I wrote my half of the proposed story, with the hope of eliciting the other half. My friend's more important engagements, however, have thus far kept Fausta's detailed biography from the light. I sent my half to Mr. Frank Leslie, in competition for a premium offered by him, as is stated in the second chapter of the story. And the story found such favor in the eyes of the judges, that it received one of his second premiums. The first was very properly awarded to Miss Louisa Alcott, for a story of great spirit and power. "The Children of the Public" was printed in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper for January 24 and January 31, 1863. The moral which it tries to illustrate, which is, I believe, an important one, was thus commended to the attention of the very large circle of the readers of that journal,—a journal to which I am eager to say I think this nation has been very largely indebted for the loyalty, the good sense, and the high tone which seem always to characterize it. During the war, the pictorial journals had immense influence in the army, and they used this influence with an undeviating regard to the true honor of the country.]
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"Felix," said my wife to me, as I came home to-night, "you will have to go to the pork-barrel."
"Are you quite sure," said I,—"quite sure? 'Woe to him,' says the oracle, 'who goes to the pork-barrel before the moment of his need.'"
"And woe to him, say I," replied my brave wife,—"woe and disaster to him; but the moment of our need has come. The figures are here, and you shall see. I have it all in black and in white."
And so it proved, indeed, that when Miss Sampson, the nurse, was paid for her month's service, and when the boys had their winter boots, and when my life-insurance assessment was provided for, and the new payment for the insurance on the house,—when the taxes were settled with the collector (and my wife had to lay aside double for the war),—when the pew-rent was paid for the year, and the water-rate,—we must have to start with, on the 1st of January, one hundred dollars. This, as we live, would pay, in cash, the butcher, and the grocer, and the baker, and all the dealers in things that perish, and would buy the omnibus tickets, and recompense Bridget till the 1st of April. And at my house, if we can see forward three months we are satisfied. But, at my house, we are never satisfied if there is a credit at any store for us. We are sworn to pay as we go. We owe no man anything.
So it was that my wife said: "Felix, you will have to go to the pork-barrel."
This is the story of the pork-barrel.
It happened once, in a little parish in the Green Mountains, that the deacon reported to Parson Plunkett, that, as he rode to me eting by Chung-a-baug Pond, he saw Michael Stowers fishing for pickerel through a hole in the ice on the Sabbath day. The parson made note of the complaint, and that afternoon drove over to the pond in his "one-horse shay." He made his visit, not unacceptable, on the poor Stowers household, and then crossed lots to the place where he saw poor Michael hoeing. He told Michael that he was charged with Sabbath breaking, and bade him plead to the charge. And poor Mike, like a man, plead guilty; but, in extenuation, he said that there was nothing to eat in the house, and rather than see wife and children faint, he had cut a hole in the ice, had put in his hook again and again, and yet again, and coming home had delighted the waiting family with an unexpected breakfast. The good parson made no rebuke, nodded pensive, and drove straightway to the deacon's door.
"Deacon," said he, "what meat did you eat for breakfast yesterday?"
The deacon's family had eaten salt pork, fried.
"And where did you get the pork, Deacon?"
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The Deacon stared, but said he had taken it from his pork-barrel.
"Yes, Deacon," said the old man; "I supposed so. I have been to see Brother Stowers, to talk to him about his Sabbath-breaking; and, Deacon, I find the pond is his pork-barrel."
The story is a favorite with me and with Fausta. But "woe," says the oracle, "to him who goes to the pork-barrel before the moment of his need." And to that "woe" both Fausta and I say "amen." For we know that there is no fish in our pond for spendthrifts or for lazy-bones; none for people who wear gold chains or Attleborough jewelry; none for people who are ashamed of cheap carpets or wooden mantelpieces. Not for those who run in debt will the fish bite; nor for those who pretend to be richer or better or wiser than they are. No! But we have found, in our lives, that in a great democracy there reigns a great and gracious sovereign. We have found that this sovereign, in a reckless and unconscious way, is, all the time, making the most profuse provision for all the citizens. We have found that those who are not too grand to trust him fare as well as they deserve. We have found, on the other hand, that those who lick his feet or flatter his follies fare worst of living men. We find that those who work honestly, and only seek a man's fair average of life, or a woman's, get that average, though sometimes by the most singular experiences in the long run. And thus we find that, when an extraordinary contingency arises in life, as just now in ours, we have only to go to our pork-barrel, and the fish rises to our hook or spear.
The sovereign brings this about in all sorts of ways, but he does not fail, if, without flattering him, you trust him. Of this sovereign the name is—"the Public." Fausta and I are apt to call ourselves his children, and so I name this story of our lives,
"Where is the barrel this time, Fausta?" said I, after I had added and subtracted her figures three times, to be sure she had carried her tens and hundreds rightly. For the units, in such accounts, in face of Dr. Franklin, I confess I do not care.
"The barrel," said she, "is in FRANKLESLIE'SOFFICE. Here is the mark!" and she handed me FRANKLESLIE'SNEWSPAPER, with a mark at this announcement:—
for the best Short Tale of from one to two pages of FRANK LESLIE'S ILLUSTRATED NEWSPAPER, to be sent in on or before the 1st of November, 1862.
"There is another barrel," she said, "with $5,000 in it, and another with $1,000. But we do not want $5,000 or $1,000. There is a little barrel with $50 in it. But
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Butwedonotwant$5,000or$1,000.Thereisalittlebarrelwith$50init.But see here, with all this figuring, I cannot make it do. I have stopped the gas now, and I have turned the children's coats,—I wish you would see how well Robert's looks,—and I have had a new tile put in th e cook-stove, instead of buying that lovely new 'Banner.' But all will not do. We must go to this barrel."
"And what is to be the hook, darling, this time?" said I.
"I have been thinking of it all day. I hope you will not hate it,—I know you will not like it exactly; but why not write down just the whole story of what it is to be 'Children of the Public'; how we came to live here, you know; how we built the house, and—all about it?"
"How Felix knew Fausta," said I; "and how Fausta first met Felix, perhaps; and when they first kissed each other; and what she said to him when they did so."
"Tell that, if you dare," said Fausta; "but perhaps—the oracle says we must not be proud—perhaps you might tell just a little. You know—really almost everybody is named Carter now; and I do not believe the neighbors will notice, —perhaps they won't read the paper. And if they do notice it, I don't care! There!"
"It will not be so bad as—"
But I never finished the sentence. An imperative ge sture closed my lips physically as well as metaphorically, and I was glad to turn the subject enough to sit down to tea with the children. After the bread and butter we agreed what we might and what we might not tell, and then I wrote what the reader is now to see.
New-Yorkers of to-day see so many processions, and live through so many sensations, and hurrah for so many heroes in every year, that it is only the oldest of fogies who tells you of the triumphant procession of steamboats which, in the year 1824, welcomed General Lafayette on his arrival from his tour through the country he had so nobly served. But, if the reader wishes to lengthen out this story, he may button the next silver-gray friend he meets, and ask him to tell of the broken English and broken French of the Marquis, of Levasseur, and the rest of them; of the enthusiasm of the people and the readiness of the visitors, and he will please bear in mind that of all that am I.
For it so happened that on the morning when, for want of better lions to show, the mayor and governor and the rest of them took th e Marquis and his secretary, and the rest of them, to see the orphan asylum in Deering Street,—as they passed into the first ward, after having had " a little refreshment" in the managers' room, Sally Eaton, the head nurse, dropped the first courtesy to them, and Sally Eaton, as it happened, held me screaming in her arms. I had been sent to the asylum that morning with a paper pinned to my bib, which said myname was Felix Carter.
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"Eet ees verra fine," said the Marquis, smiling blandly.
"Ràvissant!" said Levasseur, and he dropped a five-franc piece into Sally Eaton's hand. And so the procession of exhibiting m anagers talking bad French, and of exhibited Frenchmen talking bad Engl ish, passed on; all but good old Elkanah Ogden—God bless him!—who happened to have come there with the governor's party, and who loitered a minute to talk with Sally Eaton about me.
Years afterwards she told me how the old man kissed me, how his eyes watered when he asked my story, how she told again of the moment when I was heard screaming on the doorstep, and how she offered to go and bring the paper which had been pinned to my bib. But the old man said it was no matter,—"only we would have called him Marquis," said he, "if his name was not provided for him. We must not leave him here," he said; "he shall grow up a farmer's lad, and not a little cockney." And so, instead of going the grand round of infirmaries, kitchens, bakeries, and dormitories with the rest, the good old soul went back into the managers' room, and wrote at the moment a letter to John Myers, who took care of his wild land in St. Lawrence County for him, to ask him if Mrs. Myers would not bring up an orphan baby by hand for him; and if, both together, they would not train this baby till he said "stop"; if, on the other hand, he allowed them, in the yearly account, a hundred dollars each year for the charge.
Anybody who knows how far a hundred dollars goes in the backwoods, in St. Lawrence County, will know that any settler would be glad to take a ward so recommended. Anybody who knew Betsy Myers as well as old Elkanah Ogden did, would know she would have taken any orphan brought to her door, even if he were not recommended at all.
So it happened, thanks to Lafayette and the city council! that I had not been a "Child of the Public" a day, before, in its great, clumsy, liberal way, it had provided for me. I owed my healthy, happy home of the next fourteen years in the wilderness to those marvellous habits, which I should else call absurd, with which we lionize strangers. Because our hospitals a nd poorhouses are the largest buildings we have, we entertain the Prince of Wales and Jenny Lind alike, by showing them crazy people and paupers. Easy enough to laugh at is the display; but if, dear Public, it happen, that by such a habit you ventilate your Bridewell or your Bedlam, is not the ventilation, perhaps, a compensation for the absurdity? I do not know if Lafayette was any the better for his seeing the Deering Street Asylum; but I do know I was.
This is no history of my life. It is only an illustration of one of its principles. I have no anecdotes of wilderness life to tell, and no sketch of the lovely rugged traits of John and Betsy Myers,—my real father and mother. I have no quest for the pretended parents, who threw me away in my babyhood, to record. They closed accounts with me when they left me on the asylum steps, and I with them. I grew up with such schooling as the public gave,—ten weeks in winter always, and ten in summer, till I was big enough to work on the farm,—better periods of schools, I hold, than on the modern systems. Mr. Ogden I never saw. Regularly he allowed for me the hundred a year till I was nine years old, and then suddenly he died, as the reader perhaps knows. But John Myers kept me
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as his son, none the less. I knew no change until, when I was fourteen, he thought it time for me to see the world, and sent me to what, in those days, was called a "Manual-Labor School."
There was a theory coming up in those days, wholly unfounded in physiology, that if a man worked five hours with his hands, he could study better in the next five. It is all nonsense. Exhaustion is exhaustion; and if you exhaust a vessel by one stopcock, nothing is gained or saved by closing that and opening another. The old up-country theory is the true one. Study ten weeks and chop wood fifteen; study ten more and harvest fifteen. But th e "Manual-Labor School" offered itself for really no pay, only John Myers and I carried over, I remember, a dozen barrels of potatoes when I went there with my books. The school was kept at Roscius, and if I would work in the carpenter's shop and on the school farm five hours, why they would feed me and teach me all they knew in what I had of the day beside.
"Felix," said John, as he left me, "I do not suppose this is the best school in the world, unless you make it so. But I do suppose you can make it so. If you and I went whining about, looking for the best school in the world, and for somebody to pay your way through it, I should die, and you w ould lose your voice with whining, and we should not find one after all. This is what the public happens to provide for you and me. We won't look a gift-horse in the mouth. Get on his back, Felix; groom him well as you can when you stop, feed him when you can, and at all events water him well and take care of him well. My last advice to you, Felix, is to take what is offered you, and never complain because nobody offers more."
Those words are to be cut on my seal-ring, if I ever have one, and if Dr. Anthon or Professor Webster will put them into short enough Latin for me. That is the motto of the "Children of the Public."
John Myers died before that term was out. And my more than mother, Betsy, went back to her friends in Maine. After the funeral I never saw them more. How I lived from that moment to what Fausta and I call the Crisis is nobody's concern. I worked in the shop at the school, or on the farm. Afterwards I taught school in neighboring districts. I never bought a ticket in a lottery or a raffle. But whenever there was a chance to do an honest stroke of work, I did it. I have walked fifteen miles at night to carry an election return to theTribune'sagent at Gouverneur. I have turned out in the snow to break open the road when the supervisor could not find another man in the township.
When Sartain started his magazine, I wrote an essay in competition for his premiums, and the essay earned its hundred dollars. When the managers of the "Orphan Home," in Baltimore, offered their prizes for papers on bad boys, I wrote for one of them, and that helped me on four hard months. There was no luck in those things. I needed the money, and I put my hook into the pork-barrel, —that is, I trusted the Public. I never had but one stroke of luck in my life. I wanted a new pair of boots badly. I was going to walk to Albany, to work in the State library on the history of the Six Nations, which had an interest for me. I did not have a dollar. Just then there passed Congress the bill dividing the surplus revenue. The State of New York received two or three millions, and divided it among the counties. The county of St. Lawrence divi ded it among the townships, and the township of Roscius divided it a mong the voters. Two
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